Mixed media: books

Peter Whittaker and Jo Lateau review the latest releases in radical publishing.

Can We Feed the World Without Destroying It? 

by Eric Holt-Giménez (Polity, ISBN 9781509522019)

In this splendid primer on food politics, Eric Holt-Giménez, Executive Director of Food First, addresses the question posed in his title. Almost a third of humanity suffer from hunger or malnutrition and, on current projections, the world’s population is set to hit 10 billion by 2050. Thus, we are told, we have to double global food production by that date to feed our ever-growing numbers.

In robust, no-nonsense fashion the author takes issue with the pronouncements and assumptions of agribusiness and politicians alike. He argues that the root problem is not scarcity of food – we already produce enough to feed that projected 10 billion – instead it lies in the wasteful, wrongheaded and ultimately planet-wrecking way we produce and consume our food. Pursuing the chimera of ‘enough food’ is a fool’s errand. Indeed, the drive to produce more, through industrial mono-cropping, gene modification and intensive use of fertilizers and pesticides is, in Holt-Giménez’s view, precisely the approach that will result in global catastrophe. As he pithily says, ‘Overshoot of the earth’s human carrying capacity is driven by capitalism.’

Because we are asking the wrong question, we are reaching the wrong conclusion. Rather than asking how we can constantly produce more food, we should be questioning who produces, how they produce and to what ends. A system that condemns millions to grinding poverty and hunger is not correctable by technological tinkering. Holt-Giménez’s conclusion – daunting or rousing depending on your viewpoint – is that we can end hunger and environmental destruction only through radical political and economic transformation. We can feed the world – by changing everything. PW





by Luce D’Eramo, translated by Anne Milano Appel (Pushkin Press, ISBN 9781782273882)

The cover blurb of this autobiographical novel will tell you that it concerns an idealistic young fascist, Lucie, who leaves Italy in 1944 to volunteer at a Nazi labour camp, intending to disprove the lies she has heard about what is happening in Germany. Unable to deny the horrific truth, however, she soon disowns her previous identity and joins a group of deportees being sent to Dachau concentration camp, from where she escapes, only to be paralysed when a wall collapses on her as she tries to rescue bomb survivors.

Such a summary, however, only scratches the surface of what Deviation is really about. At its heart is the narrator’s rebellion against her bourgeois upbringing and her struggle to live an authentic life according to her own rules, while trying (often unsuccessfully) to distance herself from the disdain, self-importance and complacency she associates with her parents’ social class.

The novel was written in stages, between 1953 and 1977, added to as and when memories resurfaced or the author/narrator felt able to challenge or reassess what she had already written, with the disconcerting result that the book turns into a critical analysis of itself. The reader must join Luce in re-evaluating everything as she sheds layer after layer of false memories to finally expose herself – now writing as a middle-aged woman – for who she is and who she was.

The narration is sometimes rambling, and Luce herself is hard to warm to. Yet her willingness to undergo what is, in effect, her own brutal character assassination redeems her – in this reader’s eyes, at least. 



by Rita Indiana, translated by Achy Obejas​ (And Other Stories, ISBN 9781911508342)

No-one could accuse Dominican author Rita Indiana of playing it safe. Her incandescent novel is a wild mash-up of science fiction, ecological meltdown, gender politics, art world machinations and Yoruba ceremony. Throw in elements of colonialism and slavery, time travel and hard-boiled thriller and you have the makings of a shambolic mess. Remarkably, Indiana makes it work and Tentacle is a huge adrenalin rush of fluidity and possibility.

The book is set in Santo Domingo a decade or so in the future, in the aftermath of a massive seaquake – caused by human folly – which has wiped out most marine life. Indiana’s characters live dual lives in which their high-tech online personas are in stark contrast to their hardscrabble lives in the degraded wasteland of the real. Acilde Figueroa, a maid and aspiring chef, is drawn into a labyrinthine plot to save the ocean, in which she must change both sex and identity and jump-start an alternative timeline in which different, better decisions are made. In this she is aided by a Cuban doctor of dubious morality, a rare and valuable sea anemone, and various devotees of the Santeria faith.

Tentacle leaves the reader with a flashbulb image of a post-apocalypse future in which a life full of dance, art, politics and sex is not only possible but absolutely necessary, and human destiny is determined not by what you begin as but what you choose to be. This is a life-affirming book in which the fizz of the storytelling compounds and amplifies the urgency of the political and ecological message. 


Voices of the Windrush Generation

by David Matthews (Blink Publishing, ISBN 9781788701341)

On 22 June 1948 the HMT Empire Windrush docked at Tilbury. She was carrying 802 migrants from the Caribbean, responding to a call from Britain for people to come and fill labour shortages in a war-ravaged economy. These West Indians and the thousands who followed them in the next two decades – collectively known as The Windrush Generation – took up essential jobs in the NHS, transport, manufacturing and the Civil Service. In 2018 they became the focus of a political scandal when it emerged that, as a result of the ‘hostile environment policy’ instigated by then-Home Secretary Theresa May, thousands were threatened with deportation or deprived of state benefits or vital medical treatment because they supposedly lacked the correct paperwork.

Much has been written about the Windrush Generation, from the racism and hardships they faced on arrival to the iniquity of their treatment by the British state. In his important and timely oral history, Voices of the Windrush Generation, journalist David Matthews sets out to give us ‘the real story told by the people themselves’ and, in this, his book is an unqualified success. Here we have the individual and unmediated voices and experiences – Nicey and Jenny from Jamaica, Allyson Williams from Trinidad, Enid Rodie from Guyana and numerous others. They speak of their childhood or young adult lives in the Caribbean and the sorrows and joys they encountered as they forged new lives in Britain. In his documentation of a generation more often talked about than listened to, Matthews has provided an invaluable socio-political and cultural resource that deserves the widest pos-sible readership. PW



Reviews editor: Vanessa Baird
Words: Peter Whittaker, Jo Lateu